EAST PALESTINE, Ohio (WJW) – Officials in East Palestine held a press conference on the train derailment cleanup Thursday afternoon as residents move back into their homes after a dayslong mandatory evacuation.
The mandate was lifted during Governor Mike DeWine’s press conference Wednesday evening.
The barricades are down and people are once again on the streets of what has been an evacuation zone since Sunday due to the derailment and a controlled burn of toxic chemicals.
During the press conference, fire chief Keith Drabick said the fire department is now figuring out what equipment in the fire station is still usable.
“All of our gear is out of service due to the fire,” he said. “If you drive past the firehouse, it looks a lot like other places in this town’s disaster area. Trying to go through and decontaminate, see what’s usable and not usable.”
They have reached out to manufacturers to get replacement equipment. In the meantime, a fire department in South Carolina will supply gear for East Palestine firefighters.
The fire chief also thanked everyone for all of the donations the community has received since the crisis started last Friday.
“We are very, very thankful and gracious for your generosity and thinking to take care of us,” said fire chief Keith Drabick. “We don’t need anything else, folks. I promise you. We have plenty.”
Officials also provided the following resources for East Palestine residents to use if they have questions or concerns as they return home:
- NS Family Assistance — 1-800-230-7049
- Home Air Screening — 330-849-3913
- Ohio EPA — 614-644-2160
- US EPA — epaosc.org
- CTEH toxicology — 234-542-6474
- Columbiana Co. Extension — 330-967-7249
- Community Action Agency — 330-424-4013
Residents are happy to get back to their homes, most very trusting of what they’re being told and the way things have been handled. This includes Melissa Smith, who had to evacuate her family farm.
“At first it was just a minor inconvenience and then it turned a little more serious and it was a little emotional to be honest,” said Smith.
With the all-clear given during Governor Mike DeWine’s Wednesday evening press conference, Smith also returned to her business which had to close.
“On Friday when we left, we had done some production and so normally we would be coming in the morning and taking care of the pours that we did the day before,” she said.
Smith is trying to catch up with her orders, but she’s glad to be back in the shop and back to her home.
“Everything looks good so far and we are going to have some air quality testing. We are going to test the water. We have a natural spring we are going to be testing. We might look into doing some soil sampling,” Smith said.
While people are glad to be getting back to their homes and businesses, just south of the derailment site, you can still see dead fish and traps that have been placed to catch whatever contamination may remain in the creek.
“There’s literally hundreds and hundreds of data points that we have collected over time to show that the air quality and the town is safe,” EPA officials said Wednesday.
Among those returning Thursday is David Scheufele, who is named on a federal class action lawsuit that has already been filed against Norfolk and Southern Railroad. He has been worried about coming home to his cats.
“Old house, drafty and everything, so we weren’t sure if anything was going to get in the house when we got back,” Scheufele said.
Most residents have been complimentary of the way the crisis was handled.
“I think they were totally professional. I think they did the best given the situation, especially the way it unfolded,” Smith said.
Attorneys who filed that federal lawsuit declined comment about it Thursday.